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What is Wheezing?

Hearing your canine wheezing can often be alarming for pet parents since it can sound like your pet is having an asthma attack. Wheezing is described as a whistling sound coming from your dog while he is breathing in and out. Although asthma is an uncommon but possible reason for wheezing, it is not the only one. Others possible causes include:

  • Allergies
  • Kennel cough
  • Bronchitis
  • Infections
  • Parasites

In most cases, there is a simple solution to your dog's wheezing. However, if the wheezing is persistent and happens often, you may want to consider bringing them to the veterinarian in order to ensure that it is not something serious.

Why Wheezing Occurs in Dogs

Dogs have sensitive airways that should expand and contract in order to let the right amount of oxygen into the lungs. If there is a problem with the airways, it can cause wheezing as they are not expanding enough and the oxygen must squeeze its way through the tight airways. Failure of expansion in the airways can occur if your dog has:

Asthma

Dogs, like humans, can develop asthma when the large upper airways undergo spasms and constrictions. Asthma in dogs, which is also known as allergic bronchitis, is almost always caused by something in the environment that is causing an allergic reaction. Some of these allergens include cigar smoke, dust or smoke from fireplaces and wood burning stoves, and aromas from air fresheners and deodorizers. Your dog can be more susceptible to allergic bronchitis if he is young or middle aged, although older dogs are not immune. It is also more common in older smaller dog breeds. Asthma, or allergic bronchitis, can often be treated with medication, but can become chronic and very severe if overlooked and left for too long. Symptoms aside from wheezing can include a dry hacking cough and respiratory distress.

Allergies

Allergies to pollen, dust or cigarette smoke can also cause wheezing. Some dogs can also develop allergies to certain insect stings or bites. Wheezing will be accompanied by itching of the skin, sneezing and/or coughing. In some cases, there may be runny discharge from the eyes or nose, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea. Allergies in dogs can be fairly common in all breeds, and will usually appear between the age of six months to two years old.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a respiratory disease that can be highly contagious. It is usually acquired in places where a large amount of canines congregate, such as doggie daycare, dog parks, shows or training groups, as well as kennels (hence the name). The most obvious symptom is a strong cough, which will be accompanied by wheezing, sneezing, a loss of appetite, lethargy and sometimes a low fever. Mild kennel cough can be treated with a few weeks of rest, but your vet may choose to prescribe cough medication to ease the symptoms or antibiotics to prevent a secondary infection. If your dog is often in contact with other canines, it may be wise to get a vaccination to prevent kennel cough.

Bronchitis

Aside from wheezing, signs of bronchitis can include a dry hacking cough that is usually triggered by stress, exercise or direct physical pressure on the trachea. There may also be a fluctuating fever, retching or gagging and a passing of foamy saliva, intolerance to exercise, lethargy, a show of respiratory difficulty, and rapid breathing. Obesity can be a complicating factor that could increase your dog's risk of bronchitis. Any dog is at risk, but small toy breeds and aging or older dogs can be more susceptible.

Infections

There are many symptoms to upper respiratory infections, including sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge and irritation, a low grade fever, eye discharge, difficulty and labored breathing, loss of appetite resulting in weight loss, exercise intolerance, snorting, wheezing and gagging. Puppies or older animals, unvaccinated pets, as well as dogs with impaired immune systems are more at risk to infections.

Parasites

If your dog is wheezing, coughing, losing weight, sneezing, has an increased breathing rate, nasal discharge, weakness, lethargy, vomiting, regurgitation, aspiration of stomach contents and food, or worms present in the feces, he may have a parasitic infection. There are many types of parasites that can interfere with your dog's respiratory tract and cause wheezing.

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What to do if your Dog is Wheezing

If the wheezing does not last, and your dog seems to be acting normally and breathing without any problems, then you should keep an eye on them but going to the vet is most likely not necessary. If your pet is wheezing and seems to be having trouble breathing, then you should consider bringing them to the vet. Your canine could have an illness like bronchitis or kennel cough, or may have an object lodged in their throat. Whatever the case may be, it would be wise to visit your veterinarian. 

If you discover that your dog does have a foreign body present, if possible it is important to not try to get it out on your own as you could push it in further and block the airway completely. Instead you should get to the nearest veterinarian immediately and allow them to dislodge the object. Many of the causes for your dog’s wheezing, like asthma and allergies, can be cured by medication or antibiotics that will be prescribed by your vet. Others, like in the case of mild kennel cough, simply call for a few weeks of rest. Some illnesses, such as infections and parasites, can be prevented by vaccines.

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Prevention of Wheezing

Although most of the causes for wheezing are not fatal, it is best to not take chances and try to prevent it. To avoid wheezing and other symptoms, you should not let your dog eat any frozen foods or have access to small toys and objects that could potentially get stuck in their throat. To ensure that your pet is as healthy as can be, do not expose them to cigarette smoke, fireplaces, wood burning stoves, air fresheners or deodorizers, as they can be damaging to the lungs and respiratory system.

If a reaction to an inhalant or specific food is suspected, it is wise to test your dog for any allergies and decide with your vet whether your pet is in need of medication or if a product or food item needs to be eliminated from their diet or environment. Get your furry friend vaccinated for infections and kennel cough, especially if they spend a lot of time around other dogs. Keep an eye on your pet, and do not overlook any changes in behavior, appetite or energy levels, no matter how small, as they can often be part of something bigger.

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Cost of Wheezing

Treatments for wheezing can have different costs, depending on the actual cause. Treating allergic bronchitis, otherwise known as asthma, will be on average $400. If your dog has been diagnosed with kennel cough, expect to pay about $650, depending on the severity. Treatments for bronchitis can cost about $600.

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Wheezing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Chihuahua

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Not sure maybe older

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0 found helpful

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Throwing Up Wheezing

Came home today,my dog is throwing up, sick eyes and wheezing

Aug. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question, I'm sorry your dog is sick. If she is vomiting repeatedly, and is having trouble breathing, she needs to go to an ER. It is difficult to say what she might have gotten into or what might be causing this, but they will be able to examine her, see what might be going on and let you know what sort of treatment she needs. I hope that everything goes well and she feels better soon.

Aug. 30, 2020

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Miniature Schnauzer

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Nine Years

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Slight Wheezing , Shaking In Front Legs, Lethargic

My dog has had these symptoms for the last few days.

Aug. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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Hello Thank you for your questions. Wheezing can sometimes be secondary to respiratory issues like bronchitis. Lethargy and shaking could indicate discomfort or pain. I recommend that you take your pet to a veterinarian for an exam. They may want to perform diagnostic tests to see what exactly is going on. Hope he gets to feeling better soon.

Aug. 1, 2020

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Sprocker Spaniel

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Five Years

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Coughing

Backwards sneezing. Constant coughing bringing up foamy and green flem. Runny nose and the top of her nose has dried into scales.

July 15, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. From your description, it sounds like your dog has an upper respiratory infection and congestion happening. It would be best to have your dog seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, as they may need antibiotics or other medication to help clear this up. I hope that all goes well for your dog.

July 15, 2020

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Callie

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Sheltie

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8 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Wheezing, Heavy Breathing Sometimes

My Sheltie who will be 8 in a couple of months has been coughing and wheezing for two years, the vets did exrays , bloodwork etc and cannot find out what is causing it. She was put on antiboitics a couple of times that did help but it keeps coming back. Now they are saying because she is overweight that is the problem, but she doesn't exercise because she has a breathing problem. I put her on Vets Best aches and pains , as she seemed stiff and it has helped her alot in moving more. Going back to the vets again this weekend I just don't know what to do anymore as her wheezing is bad.

Sept. 18, 2018

Callie's Owner

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Deeogie

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German Shepherd

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Wheezing

My dog started with "reverse sneezing" and is now wheezing when he exhales through his nose. I am concerned because it seems to be getting worse. The vet says it may be allergies, and started him on Clariten. Now he is getting less energetic. I am calling the vet tomorrow to see if there is anything else to check. Here is a video of him breathing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPYWM4evfnU

Sept. 17, 2018

Deeogie's Owner

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Benji

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Maltese

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7 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Wheezing
Blind

My dog Benji is a pure bred Maltese, and is around 7 years old. Around March of this year, he started to wheeze, like how I sound when I had bronchitis. We took him to a vet and they did blood work and xrays. They said from what they can see, he looks fine and might be getting old. We take him again and they prescribe antibiotics, and recommend a vet that can to ultra sound. We take him to the next vet, they do the ultrasound but don't see anything abnormal. Said that it might be age and a muscle in the throat is loose causing him to wheeze or something. Since his last visit in April, he has gotten worse. When he wheezes, he doesn't cough anything up. I believe he lose his vision and hearing, because he is bumping into walls and doesn't look like he can see where he is going. I'm not sure if he can hear me either. He is still eating, but he looks sickly. I am hoping someone might have an idea what this is, if it is reversible, or if this is the end of his life and his quality of life is no longer good. Thank you.

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Bambi

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Pit bull

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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Lethargy
Paralysis
Loss Of Appetite
Gas
Wheezing

My Bambi is a blue demon/razors edge mix of approximately 9 years old. She's has moments where she shows absolutely no interest in her food (or mine) and will hack up a white foamy mucus before resuming a lethargic state. As of resent months I have had a few scary moments where I assumed her to be sleeping only to find her staring at me unmoving and unable to move accept her eyes; almost like she was experiencing full bodied paralysis. During the first episode of this I figured she was upset with me and therefore being dramatic by not coming to me when I called until I lifted the front half of her body and released it only to find it limp and to realize her eyes were panicked. (She was on a soft bed so she didn't have a hard landing) Since then I have noticed she has had several more of these episodes. They pass fairly quickly. I try to reassure her that she is fine and lay with her while rubbing her back during untill it is over but the look in her eyes is so scary as they seem to dart all over the room in a panic. Is she having a form of sleep paralysis or seizures?

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oscar

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shitzu x japaness spitz

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9 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

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Wheezing

wheezing at night, sounds like bubbles when I stroke him his breathing returns to normal. No coughing. He runs every night on our walks chasing rabbits mostly. Hes a 9yr old shitzu splitz cross. 1kg over weight. He spends alot time out doors but recently spent time by the fire as if hes cold.

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Boots

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Chihuahua

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4 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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Panting
Wheezing
Scratching

My dog, Boots, has recently started to get very wheezy, along with the constant need to scratch or chew himself. We've checked and he definitely doesn't have fleas. He eats his food and he still loves his walks, but for some reason the wheezing and scratching continues. We know about reverse sneezing being common in Chihuahuas, which he always has done occasionally. But this is a constant thing throughout day and night. He is a long hair chi, and the weather here is reaching 35+ degrees Celsius (very hot), so we are wondering if the weather is affecting him or if something else is the cause? We were wondering if anyone else has experienced something similar.

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Coby

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Shorkie x Bichon

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3 Months

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Gagging
Sneezing
Coughing
Wheezing

Had been exposed to other dogs with kennel cough but was treated for it before I had gotten him about a month ago. Just recently he has been wheezing and coughing randomly. He’s been doing it for about a week or so now but he runs and plays with no issues and there’s been no trouble with any of his eating habits. No weight loss either. Sneezing happens every so often but only when someone sprays perfume. The wheezing and coughing happens out of nowhere and he gags after each cough but never throws anything up. Not sure what to do.